If you haven't eaten sushi, spring rolls or samosas yet this month, we're guessing you will very soon.
Yes, so-called "ethnic foods" have stepped out from the sidelines and are becoming more of a staple in our daily diets, and as one survey suggests, more and more Canadians are looking for a diversity of meals on their plates.
Thanks to these trends, many international diets have been dubbed nutritious, and some are lauded for being healthier than Western diets. But just because you're not eating burgers and wings, it doesn't mean your ethnic takeout is any better for you.
"[Ethnic foods] can still be loaded in bad fat, salt and white flour products such as white rice, white pita, and white pasta," says Ali J. Chernoff, registered dietitian and nutrition consultant based in Vancouver, B.C.
Ingredients like saturated fats and excessive sodium can be lurking in many menus, and the trick is to figure out which meals can benefit your health.
For the most part, ethnic diets are still pretty healthy. The Mediterranean diet is known as one of the world's healthiest, cutting the risk of heart attack and stroke, while using fresh ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, high-fibre beans and fresh fruit. Other countries like Vietnam, Japan and India use fresh herbs and spices and some meals even skip the salt and oil entirely.
To help you out at the dinner table and get through a menu of foreign words, Chernoff has listed some of the healthiest and least healthy ethnic foods at restaurants. And no, this isn't about ordering a cup of steamed vegetables and missing out on all the flavour. Even though some of these items are not traditionally 'healthy', they are often more nutritious than other types of food.
So what should you order and what should you pass on? Here are 37 healthy and unhealthy ethnic foods. And if your favourite meal is unhealthy, remember, moderation is key:
The Best And Worst Ethnic Restaurant Foods
ON THE MENU: Greek salad
THE GOOD: Greek salad (with dressing on the side) can be low in calories, nutritious and still tasty. To keep things even healthier, skip the Feta cheese.
ON THE MENU: Roasted lamb
THE GOOD: Lamb may just be one of the most overlooked types of meat. According to WHFoods.com, lamb is good for our hearts and packed with vitamin B12.
ON THE MENU: Souvlaki
THE GOOD: Opa! Souvlaki, for the most part, can be a healthy meat dish full of protein. Scrape off the calories by avoiding hot sauce, garlic sauce and tzatziki.
ON THE MENU: Baklava
THE BAD: Sure, this sweet treat is the perfect way to end a Mediterranean meal, but baklava is often high in fat, sugar and butter, according to Yahoo.com — three delicious yet unhealthy ingredients.
ON THE MENU: Fried calamari
THE BAD: Fried squid often contains high amounts of fat, sodium and calories. However, squid can be quite nutritious on its own, so check to see how the restaurant prepares it for a healthier option.
ON THE MENU: Dolmathes
THE BAD: Dolmathes are grape leaves often stuffed with rice, meats and topped with an egg and lemon sauce. According to Yahoo.com, four pieces of dolmathes have 540 calories and 32 grams of fat.
ON THE MENU: Saganaki
THE BAD: Saganaki is a Greek dish of fried cheese that's made in a small frying pan (called a saganaki). And as delicious as saganaki tastes with lemon wedges, this appetizer is often made with saturated fat and has about 166 calories per serving.
ON THE MENU: Enchiladas
THE GOOD: If you go easy on the cheese and sauces (our 'official' recommendation is to stick with homemade enchiladas), this Mexican dish doesn't have to be the bad guy. Cut back on the calories by using chicken and a small portion of sauce. And if you order beans, make sure they are boiled or steamed and not re-fried.
ON THE MENU: Gazpacho
THE GOOD: Gazpacho is a cold soup that tastes best during those hot summer months. Most soups are packed with vitamins C and have about four grams of fat, according to LiveStrong.com.
ON THE MENU: Mexican Rice
THE GOOD: If you're a fan of Mexican side dishes, skip out on the cheese and beans and get a bowl of rice. Yes, rice isn't always the healthiest option if the restaurant doesn't serve brown rice, but small portions should be okay. Ali J. Chernoff, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant based in Vancouver, B.C., says always ask the server how your food is prepared.
ON THE MENU: Nachos
THE BAD: Nachos are everyone's favourite party snack. They help get the conversation rolling, taste good prepared as either vegetarian or meat dishes, but for the most part, they're also filled with saturated fat, sodium and all those toppings (like sour cream) you didn't really need.
ON THE MENU: Taco toppings
THE BAD: Toppings can be a nightmare for your health in general, so always take them on the side. This way you can balance out your portion sizes. If you're going to a Mexican restaurant, stay away from cheese dips and sour creams, and ask the server how the guacamole and salsa are made — if it's just vegetables, you're good to go. See, you can still have some fun.
ON THE MENU: Beef chimichanga
THE BAD: Chimichangas are deep-fried burritos stuffed with meat, cheese and topped with more cheese. And at most restaurants, these 364-calorie meat pockets also are high in sodium, saturated fats and carbs, according to CalorieCount.com.
ON THE MENU: Lightly pan fried or steamed tofu
THE GOOD: Tofu is made from dried soybeans and can be a healthier alternative to fried meats. Lightly pan fried or steamed tofu can be low in fat and saturated fat, according to Oprah.com. About 150 mg of tofu makes a healthy meat alternative.
ON THE MENU: Chop suey
THE GOOD: If you're eating Chinese, skip the chicken balls and sweet and sour pork and opt for something like chicken chop suey. Chop suey is a popular meat dish with bean sprouts, bamboo shoots and other veggies. Remember, ask the server if they serve brown rice as a side.
ON THE MENU: Dumplings
THE GOOD: If you're eating them steamed or lightly pan fried, this is probably the healthier choice compared to egg rolls, spring rolls and fried dumplings. Again, take a close look at the menu and ask the server how they are made, Chernoff says.
ON THE MENU: Fried rice
THE GOOD: The bad news is, one serving of fried rice means you're usually just eating a few cups of white rice. One serving of fried rice usually has three-quarters of a day's caloric intake, according to DailyBeast.com. The good news is, you can skip this option and go for brown rice or even a side salad instead.
ON THE MENU: Egg or spring rolls
THE GOOD: 'Spring' rolls may sound vegetarian and healthier than egg rolls, but for the most part, the two are equally unhealthy. One serving of pork spring rolls, for example, has about 74 calories — and yes, this doesn't include the plum sauce.
ON THE MENU: Kung Pao chicken
THE GOOD: If you're faced with the option of Kung Pao chicken, think about the salt. Most servings are low in calories and fat (compared to other dishes) but also have about 402 mg of sodium.
ON THE MENU: Edamame
THE GOOD: These boiled soybeans are high in fibre, protein and taste delicious on their own, according to WebMD. If you're the kind of person who loves to munch on appetizers, try edamame without the salt.
ON THE MENU: Miso soup
THE GOOD: Miso soup is a traditional Japanese dish made with flavoured broth, seaweed and tofu. Miso itself has the ability to strengthen the quality of blood and help with digestion, according to Care2.com.
ON THE MENU: Sashimi
THE GOOD: Sashimi (often confused with sushi) is a Japanese dish composed of thinly sliced pieces of raw meat or fish. And even raw, this dish is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, according to MarksDailyApple.com.
ON THE MENU: Tempura
THE BAD: If it's fried, you've kind of realized by now it's not good for you, and tempura is often literally just battered and deep-fried seafood or vegetables. If you're looking for a healthy side dish for your sushi, get seaweed salad or edamame instead.
ON THE MENU: Tonkatsu
THE BAD: Tonkatsu are Japanese fried pork cutlets with breadcrumbs, topped with a tangy and sweet sauce called katsu. One cutlet with sauce has 313 calories and 414 mg of sodium.
ON THE MENU: Sushi with cream cheese or spicy mayo
THE BAD: While sushi itself can be healthy and nutritious (and even better with brown rice), extra toppings are the calorie culprits. Because do you really need sushi with spicy mayo, hot sauce and cream cheese? We didn't think so.
ON THE MENU: Seafood kabobs
THE GOOD: Seafood kabobs, especially grilled ones, are low in calories (each one has about seven) and filled with omega-3 fats, protein, iron and zinc.
ON THE MENU: Mango salad
THE GOOD: Make sure you ask for the sauce on the side for this one. Mangoes are high in vitamin C and a good source of fibre. Talk about a superfood.
ON THE MENU: Thai soups
THE GOOD: Caution: stay away from the creams. If you're at a Thai restaurant and looking for a starter, start with a seafood or vegetable soup and skip the spring rolls and shrimp chips.
ON THE MENU: Dishes with coconut milk
THE BAD: If you're looking at a Thai curry menu, chances are you'll see a lot of milky dishes. The health benefits of coconut milk have be debated for quite some time, but some experts advise people to stick to unprocessed coconut milk dishes and skip out on the high amounts of saturated fats.
ON THE MENU: Fried Thai rolls
THE BAD: Just like spring rolls, fried Thai rolls are also high in calories and fat. If you want to eat a Thai appetizer, see if the restaurant offers rice paper-wrapped cold spring rolls instead.
ON THE MENU: Peanut sauce
THE BAD: Peanut sauce as a dip? Bad idea. One full cup of Thai peanut sauce has more than 700 calories and 1,350 mg of sodium. Think about that before you dip your beef skewer in a pot of nutty goodness.
ON THE MENU: Basmati rice with vegetables
THE GOOD: Basmati rice is another debated food topic because of its processing methods. To be safe and informed, ask your server about the type of rice they use and ask if brown rice is available. Basmati rice is also known to be low in calories and cholesterol.
ON THE MENU: Cucumber raita
THE GOOD: Raita is a yogurt-based sauce often made with mint, dill and cucumber. It can be used a healthy dip or even a side dish with rice.
ON THE MENU: Tandoori chicken
THE GOOD: When you're thinking curry, go tandoori. Tandoori is a type of spice mixture that includes yogurt, garam masala, ginger and onions. Garam (hot) masala is a mixture of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom, and small dashes are often enough to add flavour to any meal.
ON THE MENU: Butter chicken
THE BAD: Even though it's a popular dish, butter chicken packs in the calories. Made with yogurt and butter, this dish has about 490 calories and 18 grams of fat.
ON THE MENU: Pakoras
THE BAD: Meet the samosa's best friend. Pakoras are deep-fried mixtures of batter and vegetables. Even though one probably won't hurt you, add in the tamarind sauce or chutney and you have yourself a calorie-filled meal.
ON THE MENU: Pappadums
THE BAD: Pappadum might not look like much, but this snack, usually eaten with curry and rice dishes, is actually deep-fried. Again, one probably won't cause much damage but it's an extra 188 mg of sodium you don't need.